The name Malayalam was first used for the language in the mid-19th century.Some scholars however believe that both Tamil and Malayalam developed during the prehistoric period from a common ancestor, 'Proto-Tamil-Dravidian', and that the notion of Malayalam being a 'daughter' of Tamil is misplaced.The community dialects are: Namboodiri, Nair, Moplah (Mapilla), Pulaya, and Nasrani.As regards the geographical dialects of Malayalam, surveys conducted so far by the Department of Linguistics, University of Kerala restricted the focus of attention during a given study on one specific caste so as to avoid mixing up of more than one variable such as communal and geographical factors.It belongs to the Dravidian family of languages and is spoken by 38 million people.Malayalam is also spoken by linguistic minorities in the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka; with significant number of speakers in the Nilgiris, Kanyakumari and Coimbatore districts of Tamil Nadu, and Dakshina Kannada of Karnataka.
The most outstanding features of the major communal dialects of Malayalam are summarized below: According to Sooranad Kunjan Pillai who compiled the authoritative Malayalam lexicon, the other principal languages whose vocabulary was incorporated over the ages were Pali, Prakrit, Urdu, Hindi, Chinese, Arabic, Syriac, Dutch and Portuguese.
'Kola' is the expression attested in most of the panchayats in the Palakkad, Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram districts of Kerala, whereas 'kolachil' occurs most predominantly in Kannur and Kochi and 'klannil' in Alappuzha and Kollam.
'Kozhinnul' and 'kulannilu' are the forms most common in Trissur Idukki and Kottayam respectively.
Robert Caldwell, in his 1856 book "A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian Family of Languages", opined that Malayalam branched from Classical Tamil and over time gained a large amount of Sanskrit vocabulary and lost the personal terminations of verbs.
As the language of scholarship and administration, Old-Tamil, which was written in Tamil-Brahmi and the Vatteluttu alphabet later, greatly influenced the early development of Malayalam.
Loan words and influences also from Hebrew, Syriac and Ladino abound in the Jewish Malayalam dialects, as well as English, Portuguese, Syriac and Greek in the Christian dialects, while Arabic and Persian elements predominate in the Muslim dialects.